Asheville – A ministerial alliance group spoke out against the proposed non-nondiscrimination ordinance when the Buncombe County Commissioners took public comment. The ordinance had been updated since Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara last spoke informally about it. The revised document may be found here:
Among other things, it states, “It shall be unlawful for any proprietor or their employer, keeper, or manager in a place of public accommodation to deny any person, except for reasons applicable alike to all persons, regardless of race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, natural origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief or nonbelief, age, or disability, the full enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof.”
“Public accommodation” is defined in the document to be, “any place, facility, store, or other establishments which supply accommodations, goods, or services to the public or which solicits or accepts the patronage or trade of the public.”
By way of reminder, North Carolina’s HB2, the controversial Bathroom Bill, required persons wishing to use public facilities like washrooms, to use those corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. HB2 was replaced by HB142, which still prevented local governments from passing what are euphemistically referred to as local nondiscrimination ordinances (NDOs) which ended December 1, 2020. So now, several local governments are in various stages of passing NDOs.
The ordinance states its intention of, “reflecting the community’s shared values of equality, inclusion, and fair access,” but nobody from the county spoke plainly about what this means for public restrooms, “baking the cake,” or accidentally using the wrong pronouns, as Commissioner Parker Sloan’s previous reference to a study indicated it would. Spiritual Beliefs
The community is full of people whose consciences or spiritual beliefs hold gender to be God-given and sacred. Questions still out there waiting for an answer include: Will such women and girls have to share public lavatories, locker rooms, and showers with “women trapped in men’s bodies”? Will such doctors have to support “transitioning” therapies? Will such cosmetologists have to wax men’s bodies? Will bakers have to decorate cakes with two grooms and priests have to perform gay marriages and refrain from discussing certain Biblical passages?
The way the ordinance reads, they would, unless they wanted to risk being fined $100 per day. Offended persons would register a complaint with the county’s equity officer, who would be given access to the offender’s premises and documents during the investigation, etc. If the fines were not paid, the county would attempt to collect the debt, which could include seeking injunctive relief, which seems to imply the county could shut down a business.
The ordinance deals mostly with fair employment practices in hiring, compensation, promotion, and firing, as well as fair housing law. It carves out exemptions for “insurers, hospitals, medical service companies, health maintenance organizations,” and their agents and assigns engaging in underwriting risks. In one sense, then, organizations that can afford to pay the fines or hire attorneys to fight them, need not comply.
It also exempts “religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities.”
During public comment, Pastor John Grant spoke on behalf of the more than 20 churches making up the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Asheville and Vicinity. He indicated none of the members knew what this clause meant. They could make educated guesses about the subjective terminology, but voluntary compliance requires clarity.
He also said nobody had reached out to any of the group’s ministers for their input. So, the alliance prepared a statement arguing the ordinance was attempting to protect one group by discriminating against others by, among other things, infringing freedom of speech and religion. The ordinance sounded like it was protecting large churches that were incorporated with paid staff while leaving more humble parishes wide open. Later, Superintendent Ron Gates, who is also a member of the alliance, corroborated what Grant was saying.
It is important to note the ordinance exempts only employment by the above types of churches. It does not protect churches from somebody saying they are not afforded full enjoyment of a service because the sermon wandered into Lev. 18:22, Romans 1:27, etc. Priests would not pray for inspiration in their sermons or exercise the authority vested in them from above in sacred ceremonies; instead, they’d count themselves frauds because they would be doing the bidding of Equality North Carolina and the Campaign for Southern Equality, who is behind the push for local NDOs.
On the business side, John Hoerner and Bob Machen foresaw the ordinance bogging businesses and churches down in legal disputes based on he-said/she-said. Karen Hoerner, citing broad experience in the local healthcare field, said she hadn’t seen the discrimination alleged by the ordinance and suggested the county was attempting to impose a perceived bias on the community. She asked to see the local research with its methods.
Most speakers asked for more time to hear from the community. As written, they said, the ordinance would work against equity and inclusion. For example, by exempting private clubs, it was providing an incentive to be exclusionary, perhaps with membership dues that would marginalize the disadvantaged. John Hoerner counseled the board to, instead of singling out groups for special protections, the county should just protect everybody’s rights equally.
The Tribune emailed Beach-Ferrara with questions about her non-discrimination ordinance several weeks ago, but she did not respond to the email.
Editor’s note: Clint Parker contributed to this report.